When you think of fall you might first think of back-to-school, leaves changing, the weather cooling off… the fun parts. Go far enough down that list and you’ll eventually hit the reminder that the fall also means the flu and this year it might also mean a COVID-19 spike.
In addition to everyone getting sick, there’s also the approach of the holidays. We know what that means. An influx in your sugary and junky food intake and your schedule rapidly filling up- leaving less time for self care. This fall, let’s make a conscious effort to do things that boost our immune system so that we can finish off this year strong and healthier than ever. Now you finish a year says a lot more than how spent the bulk of the year.
Now that you’ve made the decision to make some little changes here and there to boost your immunity to sickness, where do you actually start? I decided to categorize this from easiest to most amount of work to get you going with some baby steps!
Sleep! We need it. We love when we get it. And now you have another reason to justify getting the right amount of it. Not just the right amount of it, but the best times to acquire it and do so efficiently. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to be high functioning. Sleep allows your body uninterrupted time to fix injuries, replenish what has been depleted in your body throughout the day, solve problems subconsciously, and reset for the next day.
So how much sleep do you need? For most adults that’s 6-8 hours. Teens need about 8-10 hours and finally infants/young children should get up to 14 hours of sleep.
For adults, the best way to ensure you’re getting the best sleep is first, think about what time you need to get up the next day. If you wake up at 6am, you need to be asleep by 10p to get that full 8 hours. Read that again, be ASLEEP by 10p. Not heading to bed to sit on your phone for a few hours. Not laying in bed watching TV at 10p. Asleep. This might mean you need to start your bedtime routine earlier. It is worth doing it. If you do this consistently for a week, you will notice the difference.
Getting the full amount of sleep and efficient sleep aren’t the same thing either. That addicting blue light coming from your cell phone, computer and TV screen disrupts your circadian rhythm. Allow your brain at least 30 minutes to unwind from that kind of stimulation before going to bed. Read a book, stretch, do a nice skin care routine, interact with your pets- there are loads of things you can do without your phone or TV.
Are you someone that sleeps with the TV on all night? Well, that could be the major reason behind you being able to sleep through your alarms or still feeling tired when you did get 8 hours of sleep. Your brain will continue to try and process the noise and light happening in the room even when you’re asleep. You won’t spend as much time in REM and therefore your brain is losing time to reset and problem solve. This is why there is an age old practice of not having a TV in the bedroom at all but if you must, at the very least set that sleeper timer to turn off in 30 minutes.
Hydrate for Health
There is a reason everyone pushes drinking water. Your hydration determines a lot of what happens with your body. It filters your organs, it keeps you from getting headaches, it helps replenish and clean your blood, aids in a clear complexion- the list really does go on. But one of the things that it makes the most immediate difference with is your ability to fight off sickness of all varieties.
In the summer, it’s important you significantly increase the amount of water you drink. The more time you spend in the heat, the more you process and the more you need to replenish that source. When you are dehydrated, it throws off the balance of vitamins and minerals in your body which starts a chain reaction of things in your body. Your organs start having to function differently to keep you going. When they are busy trying to adapt to not having enough fluid, you leave them open to attack. Keeping yourself hydrated will keep your organs operating normally, if not more efficiently, which allows them more strength to kick whatever sickness is passing through your body right in the butt!
Check out the chart in this section to see how much water you should be drinking. Not much of a tracker? That’s okay, I struggle to really keep track too but another method is to your pee as a sign. Keep your pee a pale yellow or clearer. If you can not only see your pee is dark but smell it too, you need to really up your intake. If you aren’t going #1 very often that’s another sign to up your intake too. Four to ten times a day is normal but it’s also not abnormal to pee more than 10 times a day if you drink a lot of water.
Eat for Immunity
Yep, this is the part where I tell you that you need to eat well too. Your body only gets vitamins and nutrients from what you consume. If you are consuming loads of bread and pasta with cheese or constantly eating from a box, that’s not great for you in general but you really aren’t doing your immune system any favors either.
First off, limited your saturated fat and sugar intake helps right off the bat. Those things contribute to weight gain and weak cardiac walls/weak kidneys which make you susceptible to getting sick. However you don’t want to avoid all fats. Healthy fats decrease inflammation and increase your body’s response to pathogens. Salmon, avocado, and olive oil are good examples are healthy fats. Swap the butter for some olive oil and the ground beef for some salmon a couple times a week to start this change.
Other vitamins to search for in foods are vitamins A, C and E, phosphorus, and magnesium. It’s not that hard to find these in foods. Citrus, greens, (spinach/broccoli) bell peppers, nuts, and seeds are great sources of these.
Your gut health is extremely important. Your stomach is full of bacteria- but that’s a good thing. You need a healthy balance of it to breakdown and efficiently process nutrients from what you eat. Your gut bacteria can even affect your reactions to food allergies and food sensitivities. To help balance your gut bacteria eat fermented foods or ones rich in probiotics- like yogurt!
Vitamins that Help
Taking a vitamin can help to. It’s never better than eating it in your regular diet, but if you are truly deficient in one, it will help. That being said, a lot of people over-intake some vitamins by popping a general daily vitamin. When you take more of a vitamin than you need, it affects how you absorb other vitamins and can throw off your system more than when you were slightly deficient in one.
One vitamin I recommend for a good immune system is a probiotic. As you get to adulthood a lot of people have stomach issues. Eating yogurt everyday isn’t for everyone. Taking a probiotic will make a big difference there.
During flu season, take some vitamin C. A lot of people swear by it even though recent science shows that taking vitamin C everyday does not generally decrease the amount you’ll get sick over a year- but if you know you’re about to do a lot of traveling or perhaps you teach and are around a bunch of sick kids, go ahead and take it. What’s the harm!
Manage Stress Levels
STRESS! Fall isn’t just a lovely time where the leaves change colors. It’s the segway into the holidays. The older you get, the more stressful the holidays seem to get. Stress is the leading cause to so many ailments and that’s because it lowers your immune system!
If you haven’t considered actively working towards managing your stress levels, it’s time to! Now, not later. Long term stress leads to cardiac health issues, mental deficiency and all sorts of scary hazards. In the short term, it can give you the sniffles, a cough or something that really puts you out on your butt for a week or so.
Everyone has different stressors. The first thing you have to do before you manage it is assess. What is it that is causing your stress? Is it work? Is it the it your daily routine? Maybe it’s just a person or one specific thing. Whatever it is, you can’t manage it without identifying what is it. From there, you can implement a plan.
The best thing is always to first see if there is a way to eliminate the stress. Do you need a whole
new job or maybe just to talk to your boss about your work load? You might even just need to get a more organized schedule. Planner works! Making lists and crossing items off, WORKS. A big stressor for people is money. Lots of bills to pay and upcoming expenses can leave even your free-time consumed with these thoughts. Of course you can always ask for a raise, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t always go in your favor. *of course if you feel like you should be making more for the amount of work you do, ASK!* But the other option is to take a look at your spending. For a couple months you might want to forego getting your nails done or maybe just delete the Amazon app from your phone. You might even need to cancel Starbucks for the holidays. As nice as those amenities are, you’ll feel better not constantly thinking about money.
Maybe your stress doesn’t come from those things or you need helping figuring it out what it is. See a therapist. The holidays in general are a great time to get a couple sessions in. No stigma. Talking with someone that doesn’t have direct play in your life is hugely beneficial. People have a need to vent for a reason.
Another great way to manage your stress is…. well it’s the next item on this list.
A two-fer! Exercise not only aids in stress management but it also boosts your immune system in its own way. I probably don’t need to tell you how.
Exercise promotes healthy weights which of course is good for your immune system and keeps all your systems operating efficiently. It makes you sweat which pushes out toxins from your body. And moderate exercise greatly improves the effectiveness of vaccines!
There are a hundred reasons to exercise, so if you don’t regularly do at least a moderate workout, it’s time to. Treat your body well and it will do nice things for you in return.
Comply with Safety Guidelines
This should be at the top of the list for how easy this is but for some reason is seems to be the hardest for all of us to get on board with. With a pandemic still sweeping through the country, there are more safety guidelines in place than usual. I won’t even get into the whole mask debate.
Safety guidelines that are supposed to be regularly practiced without a pandemic still apply this fall. Don’t cluster next to strangers. That’s right, this one isn’t new. During flu season, don’t be catching other people’s nasty germy breath. It’s common sense. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Carry hand sanitizer. Wash your hands after using the restroom and if it’s a public one, don’t touch the door with your hands after. If you don’t feel well, don’t go out. Aside from the fact that you could be spreading whatever you have around, it’s better for your body to rest up. Up your fluids, clean your sitting area and relax for a bit. Give your body that time to reboot and get everything in place. The sooner you react to not feeling well, the sooner you’ll recover.
Our health is more important now than ever and going into the fall we need to be armed with the best immune system you’ve got! Go into this next season strong and finish out 2020 better than you started. Good luck!